I got to celebrate along with a packed Memorial Stadium this past weekend as Penn State was toppled by the Fighting Illini.
57,000 in attendance! What a crowd!
What a day!
And why were we all there? Because the players on the field are finally something to be proud of.
Prior to construction, capacity at Memorial Stadium was just a few more than 69,000 people. Illinois hasn’t been within 15,000 people of that number at any one game since the 2004 season. Their averages during the Zook era have been 47,852 and 43,445.
That says to me that neither Ron Zook nor Chief Illiniwek are the ones that put fans in the seats.
So it seems to me that the ones who should be compensated greater aren’t the athletics program or the coach, but the players who are actually earning money for their schools.
But how could we do that to these innocent amateur athletes? Because what the NCAA does to them is ludicrous. And by them I refer to the revenue generating sports: men’s basketball and football.
Women’s soccer, I love you gals, I’m going to watch you Friday night, but you haven’t generated a cent ever so let’s leave you out of this conversation.
Some of the NCAA mission statement core values include: “The collegiate model of athletics in which students participate as an avocation, balancing their academic, social and athletics experiences. The highest levels of integrity and sportsmanship. The pursuit of excellence in both academics and athletics. The supporting role that intercollegiate athletics plays in the higher education mission and in enhancing the sense of community and strengthening the identity of member institutions.”
But does the NCAA always work in the best interest of the amateur athletes that represent these schools? I claim not.
Sure, they get a college education, oftentimes for free. But I presume that for many college athletes with pro aspirations, their studies are a distant second to honing the skills they are really in college for. Beyond that, the NCAA doesn’t even do a good job graduating its student athletes!
A popular NCAA advertisement tells viewers that there are more than 360,000 student athletes in the NCAA, and almost all of them are going pro in something other than sports. Of course, the advertisement fails to mention how many of these students are not actually graduating. According to the NCAA, 40 percent of football and 44 percent of men’s basketball programs fell below a 925, an academic performance rate that corresponds to just about a 50 percent graduation rate. But many schools will escape reprimand because of a squad-size adjustment.
It seems that the NCAA’s argument is at least somewhat hypocritical. The NCAA member schools are able to pay these students in education, but graduate a startlingly low number of their athletes.
Ron Duncan was an academic All-American tight end who played college football in the 1980’s. According to ESPN’s Jason Whitlock, a former college athlete himself, Duncan calculated that the amount of money he got in scholarships divided by all the work he put into playing football made his average wage “less than $3 an hour.”
I made more than double that working for the campus visitor center. Sure, walking backwards and talking about Altgeld is a tough job, but I’d presume that Rashard Mendenhall has a little bit more pressure than I did.
The ban on earnings reaches beyond college programs paying their own players. I remember an old commercial that said at Ohio State if you sack an opposing quarterback you get a buckeye sticker on your helmet; if you do a commercial, you get nothing. Why?
According to the NCAA, it has have television and marketing contracts worth more than $500 million. What is wrong with an athlete earning a couple thousand dollars for himself when he’s obviously earning the NCAA and its member institutions millions?
And how annoying is it to hear of each and every scandal involving a college athlete getting paid? Decriminalize it! Bring it out in the open! Rather than having a booster get caught giving athletes new cars, have each contract out in the open.
It’s obvious that the athletes we cheer for every game are getting exploited by the NCAA. It is time the big college programs do the right thing and pay their athletes a reasonable percentage of the revenue they bring in.
If Illinois wins Saturday against Wisconsin you will know to whom you owe your admission: the players on the field. Not the NCAA.
By Kevin Spitz Daily Illini University of Illinois (U-Wire)